Some Mozart to go with your dish towels?

Random Acts of Culture is an intriguing program that takes classical music out of the concert hall and into… well, shopping malls, farmers markets, trains and basically any place there’s a captive audience. Here is a recent video from the Mall of America, featuring musicians from the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. How would you like some Mozart to go with your dish towels? (They appear to be in the home section of Macy’s.)

The Knight Foundation, sponsor of the program, explains the purpose this way:

We strongly believe in the potential of the arts to engage residents, and bring a community together. Hearing Handel, or seeing the tango in an unexpected place provides a deeply felt reminder of how the classics can enrich our lives. As you’ll see in our videos, the performances make people smile, dance, grab their cameras – even cry with joy. For those brief moments, people going along in their everyday lives are part of a shared, communal experience that makes their community a more vibrant place to live. In these days of shrinking audiences, we also hope that these random acts will encourage people to attend traditional performances.

This seems to echo several of the ideas we’ve been exploring about “community” over the last few weeks — the need for personal connection, the return to music as a part of everyday life, etc. Certainly this program serves mainly to delight and surprise, but is there a way for “random” to become “regular” in people’s lives?


  1. Erin Hansen says:

    Fun! I am happy to see the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra getting out into the public in this way. As a former orchestra teacher, I would often gather up a group of students and we’d march over to a local store/business to perform. It was fun for the students to share their music and a fun distraction from the mundane task of buying groceries for the shoppers.
    It was also nice to see parents moving to the music with their children. Often, people do not know how to react to classical music. Take, for example, when Joshua Bell played at the D.C. Metro station.
    If you watch the video and compare the crowd reactions to the one from the Mall of American, above, you witness very different reactions. Perhaps it was the time of day, the location, the music being played, solo vs. ensemble, that accounts for the different responses. Or is the D.C. footage more typical of American society – rushing past moments of shared beauty to get to….well, wherever? How does, if at all, having public musical/artistic demonstrations affect people’s opinions on the value of the arts?

  2. Sommer Forrester says:

    I echo Erin’s comment regarding the Josh Bell footage from the Metro station. It is fascinating to see how people respond to classical music when it occurs in a place they least expect. When I was a classroom teacher, I had my students respond to the Josh Bell piece and think about how and when we value the arts. I believe that North American society is suffering from a few things:

    1. Lack of community
    2. Overwhelming sense of busyness
    3. Bombardment from the media

    As a result of these three ailments (specifically #2 & 3) – people do not get out to concerts and typically are not even aware that beautiful music, orchestras, choirs, chamber groups, perform in their city or town weekly. When I think of modern day European cities, music is in the streets all the time. The cities are constantly surrounded by art and culture, and to the Europeans, it is acceptable to stop and listen – or stop and look at the art or architecture. The North American pursuit to make money, succeed and work comes with a price. I believe people are desperate for community and a way to engage with the arts, they just do not know where to start. “Random” concerts like these are brilliant, engaging and accessible. Bravo!

    • Sommer, I like your point about the difference between the responses of European and North American cultures to scenes like this. My inclination is to attribute this discrepancy to the way cities are laid out. Many european cities are a lot smaller and more condensed, with more walking traffic. In a place like this, it would be much more common to hear street musicians simply because they are unavoidable. In many cities in North America there is almost no walking traffic, as the only way to get from one place or another is by car over several miles. In a situation like this, there would be little exposure to street music.

      I also strongly agree that our culture is lacking a strong sense of community, I have always thought that this problem is a direct result of our culture’s fixation on wide open spaces. The more space we have to ourselves, the further we are from each other.

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